10 ways to manage a chronic condition: migraines, diabetes, fibromyalgia, IBS, chronic fatigue
Updated: Jun 16, 2019
Persistent and recurring health issues are never an easy topic. Being a TCM therapist, acupuncturist and nutritionist, I know how difficult it can be for those affected by a chronic health condition to remain at ease, connect to the feeling of wellbeing and enjoy day-to-day life, especially at times when the symptoms flare up. And yet as much as we’d like to heal from something that ails us, some health disorders will hang around and give us a bit of a hard time until the ultimate cure is found. And if you’re suffering from such conditions as migraines, diabetes, fibromyalgia, acne, endometriosis, chronic fatigue, IBS, you’ve probably already heard a lot about ‘managing’ the condition while you're on the search for the ultimate cure.
In many cases, learning to manage a condition and its symptoms is a great and often transformative thing to do. Despite that, it’s a part of our culture to think that we’ve got more important things to ‘manage’ in our daily life: career, money matters, fun, friends, family, social status, life achievements. In this scheme of things, we often are forced to push taking care of ourselves and our health to the bottom of the list of priorities.
Once you've decided that it's time to really put your wellbeing first, you should be prepared to face the fact that switching those priorities isn’t easy. It will involve quite a bit of effort, including the change of habits, adjusting your lifestyle, rethinking your choices, and even getting used to a different diet. That said, it’s definitely worth giving your best shot, because the results can include significant reduction in pain, improved mood, increased productivity and better capacity to enjoy life.
If you feel like it’s time to give it a go, here the top 10 steps you can take to manage any chronic condition and its symptoms:
Notice what causes the flare ups. Don’t just rely on your memory. Writing a diary is absolutely crucial: make notes in your phone calendar, email, a notebook . Have it all in one place, where you can easily go back and find the info you need. Take note of the repeating triggers, patterns, tendencies. Compare the better days with not-so -good ones and check what have you done differently on those days. Pay attention to these factors: weather, quality of sleep the night before (also take note of dreams if you can remember them), levels of stress, type of food you had, did you miss the meal, did you binge-eat, was your food too hot or icy cold from the fridge, how much and what kind of alcohol, coffee, sugar and spices you had, notice the levels of noise and bright light, watch your water intake, skin products and household chemicals like cleaning and disinfecting products, time spent outside, type of exercise, exposure to electric appliances, exposure to air conditioners and conversations with people and how you felt afterwards.
2. Flare ups vs. calm periods
Chronic illness can be seen as a cycle. It will have flare ups and periods of calm. It’s the periods of calm when you must be most agile. When the actual discomfort or pain lessens, we tend to start ignoring the triggers and go back to the harmful patterns. Maintain your regimen during the calm periods, or at least manage the amount of triggers you expose yourself to and closely observe how your body reacts.
Food is one of the most overlooked and underestimated factors in the Western medicine. Traditional medicines of the world all use food, herbs, spices and oils to address health issues. Notice how you feel after a meal. Do you feel energetic and light or sluggish and tired? If it’s the second option, your body is struggling. From here, it’s an error and trial, until you find your personalised diet (by doing your own research or working with a qualified nutritionist) that will help you improve the state of your health and wellbeing.
Your body may be lacking in minerals or vitamins. In traditional medicines, specific plants and plant essences have always bee used for healing. In Western medicine, it’s common to use extracted vitamins and minerals instead. Both approaches can help. Know your options and give a different supplement or adaptogenic herb a go each month. In addition to the Western, try Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Ayurvedic or indigenous healing approaches. They all have a lot to offer.
Being in pain can be overpowering. It can seem that the pain or discomfort dominates and defines your entire personality. It’s almost like you become this pain you’re experiencing. The condition puts you under a huge stress . What is important to apply in this case is the principle of non-identifying, stemming from Eastern practical philosophies and the practice of meditation in particular. There are mindfulness techniques that can help change how you can psychologically separate yourself from the illness and, as a result, change how your central nervous system experiences and processes pain. It has been proved by science that mindfulness and meditation techniques work by changing the brain waves and body chemistry.
6. Breathing techniques
Breathing is now considered the newest health, wellbeing and fitness trend with big names like Wim Hof behind it. But transformational breathing techniques like Pranayama have been around for thousands of years: yogis of the world have been successfully practicing breathing to control body temperature, heartbeat, nervous, endocrine and digestive systems. Find a technique that helps your condition and practice it on a daily basis to manage to transform your health. You may be surprised as to how effective and transformative breathing can be.
7. Breaking the hamful thought patterns
To remain kind and loving towards yourself can seem nearly impossible if the condition you suffer from leaves you feeling lonely, not understood by others, or even less worthy of love and happiness. Nonetheless, training your mind to offer you kind and loving thoughts even in the hardest times can have transformational effects. It may seem unnatural at first, but that's only because the habits of having harmful thoughts that don’t serve you at all is so deeply rooted, that uproot them is quite a process that sometimes can take years to accomplish. But if you’re really determined and find a qualified practitioner who can help, it's possible to achieve the results in as little as one session.
8. Expressing your experience
Some of the most famous world’s artists (Vicent Van Gogh), writers (Friedrich Nietzsche), scientists (Stephen Hopkins) suffered from some of the most debilitating conditions imaginable. Yet their lives are something we look up to and admire. Finding a creative expression of your entire being and what's important to you is crucial to make sense of the human experience. Look into creative outlets that could help you express how you feel in the world. Writing fiction, poetry or journaling, painting, dance, photography, philosophy, music, all have great potential to help you get through any difficult experience.
9. Seeking support from your immediate circles
It’s surprisingly difficult to break the stigma of silence around a health issue. It may seem that if you’re open about how you feel, you’ll pass on the burden to other people, they’ll find you depressive or ‘contageous’. That’s simply not true. Don’t ever stop seeking open, transparent connection with others, while being honest about what you experience. You will find that most will understand, feel for you and support you in your journey. Those who don’t, don’t belong in your life. After all, do you want to hang around someone around who’s unsupportive, not compassionate and judging towards others?
10. Seeking professional help
Some of the unhelpful beliefs like “I already have tried everything - nothing helps anyway - no one can help me - I know the best - this isn’t going to work” can stop us from seeking further help or trying out different approaches and methods. Don’t let that happen. Keep seeking help until the condition is fully healed. Did someone suggest acupuncture, auriculotherapy, TCM or remedial massage but then someone else said that it’s not going to help? Well, if you don’t try you’ll never find out. In my practice, there are plenty of cases where the results achieved are absolutely transformational - it keeps me reassured and inspired to keep doing what I do. It's really amazing to see people getting their health back and living illness-free again.